Guide to Trumpet  

Trumpet and Cornet

Trumpeters have an unprecedented array of instruments that enable them
to meet today's exacting performance demands (see Fig. 3.1). In fact, trumpets are now found pitched in the keys of every scale note of a full octave above the traditional Bb instrument. These fall into two basic categories: Bb and C trumpets for general use, and higher trumpets pitched in D, Eb, E, F, G, piccolo BC/A, and C for orchestral and solo literature demanding a high tessitura.

It is fair to ask why so many trumpets are necessary. The answer can best
be illustrated through an example. While a strong player might possibly be
able to sustain the high range called for in Bach's B Minor Mass on a Eb trumpet,
that part of the harmonic series where the partials fall fairly close together would be used. By changing to a piccolo trumpet in A, the same notes may be played lower on the harmonic series where the partials are more widely separated. This facilitates the "picking out" of entrance notes and improves accuracy. Also, the undue effort required to maintain the high tessitura on the larger instrument would prove severely fatiguing. A smaller, lighter trumpet brings such parts more under the player's control. 

Aside from the question of accuracy, the larger tone of the Bb, while well
suited to the works of later composers, would be unsuitable for the light balances required in Bach's orchestration. The basic idea is to provide the trumpeter with a set of specialized instruments to enable him to adapt more readily to the diverse repertoire performed by today's orchestras.

Trumpets in higher keys are not a recent development. Teste, solo trumpeter
of the Paris Opera, performed Bach's Magnificat on a G trumpet as early as
1885, and such instruments have been available since that time. During the last quarter-century, however, high trumpets have undergone extensive research in the quest for improved instruments to cope with the mounting demands placed on modern orchestral trumpeters.

Several factors have combined to create these pressures. The trend toward
longer orchestral seasons, an oversupply of well-trained players, and the expectation by conductors and audiences of the note perfect accuracy in live performances that they are accustomed to on recordings have all had their effect. Most important, however, is that principal trumpeters are now regularly expected to perform the demanding Baroque literature with the flawless skill that was previously reserved for exceptional players and Baroque specialists.

Another important influence is the emergence of the trumpet as a major solo
instrument. Just as Jean-Pierre Rampal popularized the flute, and Dennis Brain the horn, Maurice Andre has brought the trumpet into a new era of solo recordings and international concert appearances. Since the greater part of the solo literature comes from the Baroque and Classical periods, the need for more responsive and in-tune high trumpets has grown significantly.



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By the end of the 19th century the modern Bb trumpet had replaced the longer F trumpet as the standard orchestral instrument. While the passing of the old F trumpet timbre was lamented by many(1), trumpeters were confronted with parts of increasing difficulty from composers such as Strauss and Mahler, and the new instrument proved more tractable in meeting these demands. The popularity of the Bb cornet also contributed to the change, since many orchestral players also played the cornet and were accustomed to the technical advantages of an Instrument in Bb.  Trumpets in C also made their appearance about this time and became particularly well established in France and Austria. 

The present widespread acceptance of the C trumpet in orchestras can be traced to the appointment in 1920 of Georges Mager  as principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony. A first prize winner at the Paris Conservatory and one of this century's greatest players, Mager used the C trumpet as his primary instrument during his 30-year tenure in Boston. He led a section of C trumpets (unknown in orchestras of the time) and established the pattern that has become standard in American orchestras today.

Among the first major figures beyond Boston to adopt the C trumpet was William Vacchiano, solo trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, 1934 - 1973.  The worldwide influence of American brass playing, particularly that of Adolph Herseth, principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony(2), is responsible for the present trend toward the C trumpet. (The use of C trumpets in France and Austria has continued independent of this influence).

The trend is not universal, however. British trumpeters following in the great tradition of Ernest Hall, George Eskdale and Harold Jackson have maintained their allegiance to the Bb, preferring its rounder tone and blending qualities. The Bb has to some extent retained its position in German and Eastern European orchestras as well.

1. See, for example, the discussion Of the horn and trumpet by Ralph Vaughan Williams in The Making of Music (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 1955), p. 29.

2. Adolph Herseth is a former student of Georges Mager.

In bands, the Bb remains the primary instrument due to its fuller timbre and greater ability to blend within an ensemble of wind instruments. The literature for band is almost entirely written for the Bb instrument and would have to be transposed if C trumpets were used.  Another area in which the C trumpet has failed to gain a foothold is in the jazz and studio fields. The C trumpet's timbre and playing characteristics do not seem to be particularly adaptable to the musical requirements of jazz performers.

Given the trend toward C trumpets in orchestral playing, it is important to emphasize that trumpeters are in agreement that students should begin and play through their formative years on the Bb instrument. In this way a good tonal concept and tone production will be firmly established.

It would be well to consider what specific advantages the C trumpet has to offer the orchestral player. The primary factor underlying the trend to C trumpets is related to the nature of orchestral playing with its long periods of rest. The response of the C seems to be better suited to making "cold" entrances than the Bb, and it provides a greater feeling of security and control.  This feeling is augmented by its being in the same key as the string section. The C also seems to be more compatible with the range in which the first trumpet plays and the extreme dynamic contrasts required. The timbre of the C carries well, and this allows the player to project the sound with slightly less effort than that required by the Bb.

C trumpets are now available with a number of leadpipe and bell combinations and these have contributed to an improved instrument. American orchestral players generally prefer a large bore C, and a medium-large Bb.

The parallel use of Bb and C trumpets is likely to continue indefinitely.  By having two primary instruments available, the player is afforded maximum flexibility in adapting to the requirements of the part to be performed. There has been superb orchestral playing on the Bb trumpet as well as the C. How to utilize these instruments to best advantage ultimately remains a matter of individual choice.


The high trumpet in D was developed in the late 19th century in response to the enthusiasm of the time for the choral works of Each and Handel. It was often referred to as a "Each trumpet," but this name is now discouraged to avoid confusion with the natural trumpet, which has enjoyed a revival in recent years. (The fundamental of the natural trumpet in D is an octave below the valve trumpet.) The D trumpet offered an excellent solution to the problem of performing the difficult parts in Bach's B Minor Mass, Handel's Messiah, and other Baroque works. Modern composers, such as Ravel and Stravinsky, have also utilized the instrument for colorful high-range effects in some of their compositions. 

At present there are three types of D trumpet available: a medium-bore and bell model suitable as a Baroque instrument; a large-bore which can be used in place of the Bb or C in regular orchestral passages; and the D-Eb combination (actually an Eb trumpet provided with a set of longer D slides).

Students are sometimes under the impression that the higher trumpets provide "instant range", as in the flute-piccolo relationship. Actually, trumpeters usually only add a note or two above what can be played on their regular instrument. What can be gained is better control and consistency in performing high-register passages.

In recent years, the D trumpet has largely been replaced by the piccolo Bb/A trumpet. The smaller instrument has brought the Baroque literature within the capabilities of a greater number of performers. While it offers additional security, the inherent small bore and bell of the piccolo results in a timbre which is thin in comparison to the D trumpet, and is far removed from the tone of the natural trumpet of Bach's time. The D trumpet is a more effective substitute for the natural trumpet, combining the advantages of a valve instrument and a tone quality that is closer to the Baroque ideal.


Eb trumpets are used today primarily in the performance of the Haydn and Hummel concertos, and occasionally for orchestral passages. This raises an additional aspect of the use of high trumpets which is unrelated to playing register: some passages lie better on one instrument than another. For example, the above concertos can be played fluently on the Bb; however, they are more oriented to the Eb which places the player in the key of C. Many trumpeters feel that this facilitates fingering (especially on trills) and accuracy. Others find that the use of an Eb trumpet creates a new set of problems, particularly intonation and tone quality, and prefer to remain with the Bb. There have been equally fine performances using either instrument.

The principle of substituting one trumpet for another applies to the entire range of trumpets and affords the performer a choice in matching the instrument to the part:
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Musical Examples


The E trumpet was developed specially for players who wish to perform the Hummel trumpet concerto in its original key of E major. At present, few instruments are available. A custom model is made by Blackburn, and another is part of the Schilke bell-tuned G-F-E combination, which consists of a G trumpet with interchangeable bells and valve slides for G, F, and E. Bell tuning is a recent development which allows different bells to be used on the same instrument. Many players feel this option offers improved playing qualities.

F trumpets were originally constructed for the difficult trumpet part in Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto. They have now largely been superseded by the piccolo Bb.

The G trumpet is preferred as a baroque instrument by players who want the tone and feel of an instrument larger than the piccolo. The G combines a timbre more like the D trumpet with some of the playing advantages of the piccolo.


Of all the high trumpets, the piccolo Bb/A is the most widely used today. This is due to the extensive development of these instruments over the past two decades.  Trumpeters first used the piccolo Bb more or less exclusively for the
Second Brandenburg Concerto and for other Baroque parts that did not require the written low C of the D trumpet. Since this note is beyond the compass of the three-valve piccolo and figures in a number of scores, the piccolo's use was fairly limited. D or G trumpets were normally used for these parts. With the addition of a fourth valve, which extended the range of the piccolo downward a perfect fourth, works such as Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Handel's Messiah began to be performed on the piccolo. It was soon found that if the piccolo Bb were lengthened to A (by extending the mouthpipe), parts written for the D trumpet could be played in the key signature of F, a more fluent and responsive key than the Bb piccolo's E major:

wpe27.gif (5270 bytes) Bach, B Minor Mass

Orchestral players soon began to use the piccolo for non-Baroque passages, such as Ravel's Bolero and Stravinsky's Petrouchka and Rite of Spring. At the same time, the piccolo was brought into prominence by artists like Adolph Scherbaum and Maurice Andre'. Most recently, the piccolo is enjoying widespread popularity in the film and recording fields.

The fourth valve adds five notes to the player's range below the limit of the three-valve piccolo. A by-product is a number of alternate fingerings to improve intonation. The sharp 1-2-3 and 1-3 combinations can be improved by using 2-4 and 4, respectively, a procedure normally used on four-valve euphoniums and tubas. There are other options throughout the piccolo's range. (5)

As stated earlier, the piccolo trumpet does not automatically bestow high range. What it does do is bring these notes down into the trumpet's most stable and accurate register by raising the fundamental. While comparable skill is required in performing in the upper register from one instrument to another, the piccolo trumpet offers the player the acoustical advantage of producing these notes in the instrument's middle range, providing greater control and security.

The choice of a mouthpiece for the piccolo trumpet is highly individual. Some players use their standard mouthpiece for all the high trumpets, while others change to a smaller cup depth and rim diameter. Screw-rim mouthpieces are often used, which allow the player to retain the same rim while altering cup, throat, or backbore. (6)

A variety of piccolo designs are available; the best way of selecting one is trying a number of instruments. Certain instruments will work better for individual players than others. Schilke has recently introduced a new four-valve piccolo in C. Several advantages are claimed for this instrument, but it is too early to assess how widely it will be adopted.


wpe23.gif (40775 bytes)There is increased use of rotary valve trumpets in American orchestras (see Fig. 3.2). This has come about in response to the desire for a more authentic and homogeneous sound in the 19th-century Germanic repertoire. While the rotary valve trumpet is less flexible in technical passages, it possesses a darker, more resonant timbre which is ideal in the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Strauss, and others. Also, these instruments have a greater capacity to blend with woodwinds and strings and at the same time produce a larger volume of tone in forte passages.

The rotary valve trumpet followed a separate line of development and The rotary valve trumpet followed a separate line of development and has been used as the primary instrument in central European orchestras for over a century.  Piston valve instruments, on the other hand, were centered in France and England, and from there came to the United States. Today, rotary valve trumpets can be heard with great distinction in the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic, as well as major orchestras in this country.

Although the cylindrical bore of the rotary valve trumpet is slightly smaller than its piston valve counterpart, the leadpipe and bell are decidedly larger. The instrument is designed with a wider pattern to avoid sharp curves in the tubing.

5. See Vincent Cichowicz, The Piccolo BC-A Trumpet. available from the Selmer Co.; David Hickman, The Piccolo Trumpet (Denver, Cole.: Tromba, 1973); Roger Sherman, The Trumpeter's Handbook (Athens, Ohio: Accura Music, 1979); Gerald Webster, Piccolo Trumpet Method (Nashville, Tenn., Brass Press, 1980).

6. Common piccolo mouthpieces are the Schilke 14A4a, 13A4a, 13A4c, 11A, or 1IX; the Each 7D or the wide-rim 7DW, 7E, 7EW, and 10-1/2C. Each offers a 117 backbore for piccolo mouthpieces. The receivers of some piccolo trumpets are designed to accept a cornet shank while others take the normal trumpet shank.  Cornet mouthpieces are often preferred and can be used with an adapter on models requiring a trumpet shank.

These factors, combined with the less resistant rotary valves, create the impression of a much larger instrument requiring greater air support.

There are two basic designs of rotary valve trumpet and although they appear similar, they have different proportions and tonal characteristics. One type is made by the Cologne firm of Josef Monke. Several others follow the style of instrument perfected by F.A. Heckel (and later, Windisch) of Dresden. Lechner (Bischofshofen), Canter (Munich), and Yamaha (Hamamatsu) fall into this category. Instruments are built in all of the standard keys.

Leading American players who frequently use rotary valve trumpets are Adolph Herseth (Chicago Symphony) and Charles Schlueter (Boston Symphony). In Europe, Adolf Holler (Vienna Philharmonic), Konradin Groth and Martin Kretzer (Berlin PhiIharmonic) play the instrument exclusively.


wpe25.gif (29662 bytes)There has been a remarkable resurgence of interest in the cornet in recent years.  Most of the major manufacturers have developed new lines or traditional short they are being revived in bands to lend authenticity to repertoire  originally written for them (see Fig. 3.3). Conductors are interested in achieving an authentic sonority in such works as Gustav Hoist's suites for military band and Ralph Vaughan Williams's Toccatta Marziale. Brass bands are enjoying rising popularity in the United States, and this constitutes a developing market for high-quality cornets. In orchestras, cornets are being used more frequently when specified by the composer. In the past, these parts were usually played on trumpets, thus negating the effect of contrasting tone color between cornets and trumpets which was intended by Berlioz, Franck, and others.

There should be a significant difference in tone and style between trumpet and cornet. Genuine cornet tone is darker and mellower than the clear, ringing trumpet timbre and should be colored with an expressive vibrato. Such a timbre can only be achieved through the use of a mouthpiece with a distinctly deeper and more conical cup. Trumpet players often use the same mouthpiece with a smaller shank when performing on the cornet, thereby losing much of the contrast inherent in the two instruments. The only traditional cornet mouthpieces available in the United States are the Denis Wick models, which were designed in collaboration with leading British cornetists. In the Each range, only the 5A approaches the requisite cup depth.

For a number of years, "long-model" cornets have been produced by most manufacturers. These are constructed in more of a trumpet pattern and omit the traditional "shepherd's crook" of the bell section. The changes unfortunately affect the timbre, which is closer to the trumpet than the cornet.

The cornet is at its best in melodic passages where its soft, voice-like tone can be uncommonly expressive. Another asset is its extraordinary agility, which surpasses that of the trumpet. The best way to form a concept of genuine cornet tone and style is to seek out recordings of the many superb British brass bands. These bands have an unbroken performance tradition reaching back to the 19th century and have maintained their style independent of the influence of the trumpet and modern orchestral brass playing. Another excellent source is Salvation Army brass bands where a premium is placed on melodic expression. Of particular interest is a recording produced by the International Trumpet Guild of performances of the legendary Herbert L. Clarke dating from 1904 to 1921 (Crystal S450).  cornets are also made in Eb and are used exclusively in brass bands. The Eb cornet is the highest voice of the brass band and is an important solo part.  Cornets are occasionally made in C, but are rare today.


With the wide range of trumpets available, it might be helpful to know which instruments are needed by players in various situations. Students should have little need for any instrument beyond the Bb trumpet or cornet unless they aspire to major in trumpet on the college or conservatory level. In such cases, four trumpets will be needed: Bb, C, EC/D, and piccolo BC/A. Professional symphonic players usually have several instruments of each type, with individual instruments offering different playing qualities. In addition, the professional might own several rotary valve trumpets, a G trumpet, Bb cornet, and a flugelhorn. Jazz and studio players generally prefer a Bb trumpet of lighter weight than the orchestral instrument, and also have available a flugelhorn and possibly a piccolo trumpet.

It is worthwhile for conductors of high school and college bands to make available a set of cornets for loan, when desired. Similarly, conductors of school and youth orchestras should have a few C trumpets available.

Continued with Intonation, Transposition, Mutes